A group of camp counsellors is stalked and murdered by an unknown assailant while trying to reopen a summer camp which, years before, was the site of a child’s drowning, and other grisly murders.
Amelia: Two years after Halloween kicked off the slasher-flick genre, Friday the 13th came along and wowed audiences? Maybe? I wasn’t alive at the time, so I’m afraid I’m not the best judge of how the public reacted to this new kind of horror movie. One full of gruesome murders and teens being killed (seemingly) for nothing more than exploring their sexuality. Nothing screams Americana more than that!
Billy: Let me get some serious spoilers out of the way early, and discuss how the reveal of Mrs. Voorhees as the killer is one of my favourite movie twists of all time. Coming at Friday the 13th from a franchise perspective, it seems like such a genuine surprise. We know Jason as the killer, right? Machete. Hockey mask. I know this guy. I played his NES game. But instead, the killer here is his mother, a grieving woman driven insane by the loss of her child. It really highlights how the later movies are diminishing returns as the sequels focus more and more on Jason as a supernatural force. It loses the stunningly strong motivation that drives this film.
Amelia: The first Friday the 13th is quite tame by today’s standards of gore and violence, but it’s something else for 1980. And with nothing supernatural behind the grisly slayings, just a crazy middle-aged woman in a baby blue sweater, the violence you see is kind of shocking nearly forty years later. Only kind of shocking though. The less than stellar special effects haven’t aged particularly well. Take the scene where Kevin Bacon is killed as an example. Have I mentioned Kevin Bacon yet, because he’s here and he bones a girl and then he dies. And it’s a pretty gruesome way to die to with an arrow being pushed through his throat from behind. But it’s so clearly just his head above a dummy with an excessive amount of red corn syrup dumped on him. The dummy isn’t the same colour as his face, nor is the shoulder width the same size as the guy we just intimately saw because he was naked and thrusting about atop a girl. I know the budget was ridiculously small but you can clearly see where the fake neck attaches to the fake body! Seeing the seams in special effects really breaks the atmosphere and that’s the last thing you want in a horror film!
Billy: My real issue with why I don’t enjoy Friday the 13th is mostly to do with how many victims there are. It’s such a high number that I didn’t care for any of them, and the ones I did care about I lost track of. I can only refer to names right now by carefully studying IMDb. I actually think this works in the later movies because you have Jason as a central figure who can centre the film, but combining unmemorable characters with a hidden villain equals a film that’s honestly pretty hard to patch. This gets better in the final act of the film when Alice (please God let that be her name) is on her own. If the earlier scenes in the film focused a little more on her character, I would have been okay. I’m not here for violent murders. I’m here for story. I know that makes me the wrong demographic for this film, but the only death I really cared about was the snake.
Amelia: So there’s a huge body count, lots of blood, and a twist that I doubt people saw coming way back when. Do these things make it scary? Nope. There’s no real atmosphere that gets built during the course of the film and there’s not really any jump scares either. The scene at the end where Jason attacks the girl in the canon does throw questions of a possible supernatural influence in at the last second, and it is primo jump scare material. But it’s put in slow motion! What was the choice behind that? I’d honestly like to know!
Billy: The location of Camp Crystal Lake is used wonderfully. It takes the cabin in the woods concept and gives it more meat, more variety without sacrificing aesthetics, adding uncertainty to the usually safe space in the same way Halloween corrupted suburbia. It’s the kind of film that created many nightmares at camp or, more realistically, has spawned stories actually told around the campfire. So strange that it’s a completely grounded film. The stillness of the lake at the end means so much. Did we need the final shots of kid-Jason rising from the lake? No. I actually really hate it. But that’s a change to later films that made a franchise possible.
Amelia: Three seemingly kindly old ladies out of ten
I’ve never been a fan of the slasher genre. With the exception of Hellraiser, I don’t like my horror movies to be gore porn. Friday the 13th is what drove the ridiculously gory, overly sexualized but demonizing of sex, slasher flick genre into extremes. I understand its place in horror film history, but I just don’t like it.
Billy: Three and a half seemingly kindly old ladies out of ten
Grief makes you do crazy things. Mrs. Voorhees knows that more than most. This movie honestly bored me so much during its run time that I can’t give it a particularly high rating but… mmmm that ending. Seriously a fantastic twist that I wish I could have seen without knowing what it would be going in. The ending alone made me want to rate it higher but, they also killed a snake. Really? You couldn’t have shot that scene any other way? So forget it. Three it is.